Feeding Preferences of Acanthaster planci (Echinodermata: Asteroidea) under Controlled Conditions of Food Availability
Abstract

Feeding preferences of the crown-of-thorns sea star, Acanthaster planci (L.), were studied in a series of laboratory-based feeding trials wherein sea stars were provided with equal availability of six different coral species. The order in which corals were consumed was then used to ascertain feeding preferences. Crown-of-thorns sea stars exhibited strong and consistent feeding preferences across replicate feeding trials. The most readily eaten coral species was Acropora hyacinthus, followed by A. gemmifera, A. nasuta, A. formosa, Stylophora pistillata, Montipora undata, and Pocillopora damicornis. Crown-of-thorns sea stars also consumed Goniopora lobata, Fungia fungites, Goniastrea retiformes, and Pavona cactus but only after all Acropora and Montipora (Family Acroporidae) as well as Pocillopora and Stylophora (Family Pocilloporidae) were eaten. The least preferred corals were Favites abidita, Porites lobata, Symphyllia recta, Echinopora horrida, and Porites cylindrica. Of these, P. cylindrica was never eaten in any of the feeding trials in which it was offered. Observed feeding preferences substantiate findings from previous studies, where corals from the families Acroporidae and Pocilloporidae were preferred over all other corals. Further research is required to assess the underlying basis of feeding preferences of A. planci, but this study confirms that these starfish readily distinguish between different corals and have innate preferences for certain species. Still, most corals were eventually consumed, showing that when food is limited (during population outbreaks) A. planci is likely to consume virtually all different coral species, causing extreme devastation to coral reef ecosystems.